By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Religious and progressive sectoral groups condemned the killing of a Nueva Ecija priest whom they called “a true servant of God and of the people.”
Roman Catholic priest Marcelito “Tito” Paez, 72, died from gunshot wounds at 10:45 PM last night, Dec. 4, in a hospital in San Leonardo town. He was shot at 8 PM by motorcycle-riding men in Jaen town, Nueva Ecija.
Paez, a retired priest who belonged to the Diocese of San Jose City, had facilitated the release of a political detainee earlier yesterday. Rommel Tucay, a peasant organizer of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson-Nueva Ecija (AMGL-NE), was released from the Nueva Ecija provincial jail Dec. 4, after nine months in detention on trumped-up charges illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Paez, the coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) for Central Luzon at the time of his death, was known for showing kindness and concern for his parishioners and the marginalized sectors, as well as taking a tough stand on political and social issues, particularly, human rights. RMP has condemned the killing.
In a statement issued Dec. 5, the Diocese of San Jose City denounced the killing and called on authorities to investigate.
“Kami, ang kaparian ng Diyosesis ng San Jose City, Nueva Ecija, kaisa ng mahal na Obispo, ay mariin na kinukundina ang di-makatarungan at marahas na pagpaslang kay Fr. Tito Paez. Kami ay nananawagan sa mga kinauukulan sa pamahalaan na bigyang linaw at katarungan ang kanyang kamatayan,” said the statement by the diocese, signed by Bishop Roberto Mallari.
The diocese statement also hailed Paez for his more than 34 years in service as a priest since the diocese was established in 1984. They said Paez was part of the Social Action Commission, in which he headed the Justice and Peace office and carried advocacies in for peasants, human rights and the poor. The group also called for prayers from the public.
Friends and people who knew Paez expressed disbelief over the tragedy, in messages of mourning that flowed in Facebook.
Netizens also posted farewells and prayers for the slain priest, whose affectionate character had touched many.
Servus Amoris called for justice and restraint in his Facebook account: “Justice for Fr. Tito! We strongly condemn this violent act against our beloved brother priest! Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)”
Many linked the killing to President Duterte’s pronouncement of “crackdown” on Leftists and speculations that the martial law in Mindanao will be extended and expanded nationwide.
Expressions of outrage were posted in Facebook:
Amihan Euza said: “A priest killed for helping the oppressed! This after a series of political killings and persecution. We must fight Duterte’s tyrannical rule!”
Roy Morilla compared the spate of attacks to the time under the Gloria Arroyo administration: “Grabe to! Oplan Kapayaan ni Dugong is Oplan Bantay Laya III ni Gloria en Esperon!”
Vera Gensan gave tribute to the slain priest: “Justice for the killing of Fr Tito Paez, stalwart of Bayan Central Luzon. Let us not be cowed, rather, continue to fight this utterly desperate US-Duterte regime!”
The spate of attacks in Luzon come at the heels of President Duterte’s termination of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), and his statement encouraging state security forces to “shoot armed NPAs,” or members of the New People’s Army.
On Dec. 3, another religious leader, Pastor Lovelito Quiñones, 57, was shot dead by the Police Regional Mobile Group in Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro. Quiñones, a pastor of King’s Glory Ministry was headed home in Don Pedro village when he was gunned down. Human rights group Karapatan said Quiñones’s kin said the RMG planted a .45 caliber pistol in his body. The group also said the military claimed the pastor was an NPA.
Paez’s funeral will be open to the public at 3 PM at Bahay Pari, Baloc village, Sto. Domingo.